Social Productivity: Use Peer Pressure to Keep Yourself on Task

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To-do lists can be so isolating. As you sit in front of your computer, staring hopelessly at the screen, choosing the best action to tackle next can seem impossible at times. Now, however, a new breed of productivity sites could help you get back on track by making your action lists social. Good-bye, loneliness; hello, happiness.

Social media has changed almost every aspect of life in the past decade, but until recently productivity software has remained more or less a stand-alone affair. You log on, look at your list, add some stuff, and maybe cross something off. When the list grows debilitatingly long, you seldom have anyone around to help you sort it out. And when you're short on motivation, you have no one to encourage you.

New productivity services could offer a refreshing change from the isolated to-do lists and single-driver project management systems of yore by providing socially driven task management with low overhead and open connectivity to popular social sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as integration with business tools like Google Apps.

Of course, whether adding a social component actually makes anyone more productive is a matter of debate. I test-drove a handful of the more prominent social productivity tools on the Web. Here's my take. Facebook-Friendly To-Dos Badges rewards accomplishment with points and badges.
In much the same way Foursquare awards points and badges to users who check in at coffee shops, bars, and restaurants, (pronounced "joom") awards you points and badges for doing the stuff you want to do anyway. If you're the competitive sort, this setup can quickly get you over the inertia of a long and seemingly unsortable to-do list and motivate you to start doing things so you can rack up the points.

The interface is distinctly Twitter-esque, eschewing the conventional checklist format that has become synonymous with to-do apps in favor of a quirky layout that puts the service's social elements in the foreground. It also lets you create shared tasks with other people in your friends list, which can be a good way to keep a small group on track.

On the downside, Jume's point-based system is far too easy to cheat on: You create the tasks, and you're the only judge of whether a task is completed. So if you want to breeze through a few badges, you could just create tasks that are easy to finish and watch your score skyrocket as badges accumulate effortlessly.

Worse yet, Jume's Facebook and Twitter connectivity can flood your real social networks with constant updates on your productivity exploits--which can be insanely annoying to your friends. In testing Jume for this story, I actually lost one Facebook friend who quickly tired of seeing all my newly created and completed tasks. (You could look at this as a way to test your friendships, but be warned all the same.)

The idea behind Jume is interesting, but the service is not quite ready for the brutal realities of a seriously overburdened work life. Creating new tasks takes too many clicks, and the most essential buttons of the interface are scattered willy-nilly around the page. Jume really needs an interface makeover to simplify task creation and make it easier to monitor what needs to be done next.

Remember the Milk Shares Nicely

As a PCWorld reader, you should be no stranger to Remember the Milk, the free cloud to-do list that works with Android and iOS phones. What you may not know is that RTM also includes a social component for sharing tasks and lists with coworkers, friends, and family members.

To share a list or task with a buddy, add that person to your Remember the Milk contacts list by clicking Contacts, Add Contact, and then entering their e-mail address. They'll get an e-mail inviting them to connect with you on Remember the Milk, and once they confirm the connection you'll be able to assign tasks as shared.

To share a task in RTM, first click the task. In the drop-down menu at the top of the screen, choose Share with... and then click the radio button next to the person's name in the list that appears on the next screen.

To share an entire list, click Settings, Lists. Click the radio button next to the name of the list you want to share, and then click Share with... just as above. Once your list is shared, any items added to it will automatically sync to everyone sharing the list. This feature is especially useful for household lists you share with your family, but it also comes in handy for small workgroups that don't require the bulk of a full project management service.

Next Page: Social Project Management

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